Ankle sprains take an average of 6 weeks to heal but can take can up to 4 months, depending on the severity. An ankle brace, air stirrup, hiking boots, or other form of ankle support should be worn during this time to protect the ligaments. After the ankle is healed, wearing an ankle brace or taping the ankle may help prevent reinjury.
For more painful and severe sprains, you may not be able to walk, although you might be able to bear some weight while using crutches and a protective brace, such as a brace with a built-in air cushion or other form of ankle support. If pain is severe, use crutches until your doctor tells you that you can begin to bear weight. In general, if your pain is bearable, you should try to walk or bear some weight while using crutches and a protective brace, because these activities promote healing.
Some people who have repeated or severe sprains can develop long-term joint pain and weakness. Treating a sprained ankle can help prevent ongoing ankle problems. Rehabilitation (rehab) exercises for an ankle sprain can be done at home to promote proper healing and prevent chronic pain and instability. When rehab exercises are not followed after a sprain, the ankle can become weak and unstable.
In the case of a minor sprain, rehab exercises begin soon after the injury with walking. You can try wearing hiking boots or other high-top, lace-up shoes for support. But use caution. Don't force your foot into a boot if you feel a lot of pain or discomfort.
Stretching exercises should be continued daily and especially before and after physical activities to prevent reinjury. Even after your ankle feels better, continue with muscle-strengthening exercises and balance and control exercises several times a week to keep your ankles strong.
The timing and type of rehab exercises may vary according to your doctor's or physical therapist's preferences. You will probably do the following types of exercise.
- Range-of-motion exercises to move the joint as far as you can in every direction that it moves. You can start these exercises soon after your injury.
- Stretching exercises to keep your Achilles tendon (heel cord) flexible while your ankle heals. You can start stretching as soon as you can do so without pain.
- Strengthening exercises to strengthen the muscles so they help support your ankle. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the timing of strengthening exercises for the ankle. In general, you can start these exercises after you are able to stand without increased pain or swelling, as long as you do not feel pain while you do them.
- Balance and control exercises to help your foot and ankle respond to activities, which can help prevent reinjury. You can usually start balance and control exercises when you are able to stand without pain. But talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the exact timing. You should not feel pain while doing these exercises. Also, don't try these exercises if you could not have done them easily before your injury. If you think you would have felt unsteady doing these exercises when your ankle was healthy, you are at risk of falling when you try them with an injured ankle.
- Sprained Ankle: Rehabilitation Exercises